Here’s a novel notion: America – and possibly the world – has been overrun by vampires.

In what at first threatens to be a bloodsucking spin on ZOMBIELAND, the film opens with teenager Martin (Connor Paolo) sat in a truck with grizzled older Mister (Nick Damici), dolefully narrating about how economic collapse and political unrest somehow led to the downfall of his once-mighty Nation and the vampire plague that ensued.

A show-stopping flashback sequence then illustrates how Martin was initially a simple farm lad, until the night he witnessed his entire family being slain by bloodsuckers ... and was subsequently rescued by self-appointed vampire slayer, Mister.

From that day on, Martin has stuck to his saviour like glue, convinced that the middle-aged survivalist will come through on his promise of getting the pair of them across the country and up North to Canada, which fellow survivors speak of as being the "New Eden". No matter that one such survivor warns Martin in passing that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, advising "it’s not the vampires you’ve got to worry about ... it’s the cannibals".

Along the way, the pair of them travel through deserted towns and take out vampires wherever they can (Mister has by this time educated Martin in the fine art of doing so), while occasionally meeting fellow human survivors who, if anything, are wilder than their monstrous counterparts.

None more so than religious nut, baldie bastard Jebedia (Michael Cerveris). He’s a real psycho ... but ultimately no match for the uber cool Mister. Of course.

Elsewhere, they come into contact with the more amiable Sister (Kelly McGillis). You will not believe that this is the same woman who won Tom Cruise’s heart in the atrocious TOP GUN.

Although much of the film progresses from here in an episodic manner, it does build towards a purpose, introducing characters that are at once peripheral, and yet strangely significant – however fleetingly – to our two increasingly despairing protagonists. Will this disparate band of survivors ever find their Utopia? Or at least live to see another beautiful sunrise?

Writer-director Jim Mickle (actually, he co-wrote the screenplay with Damici) has a keen eye for stunning visuals, and ensures that STAKE LAND is constantly capable of holding the attention, even if only on an aesthetic level at times. Despite its low budget, the photography is always excellent and the simplest visual ideas (abandoned streets; smog-ridden horizons) work tremendously well.

Thematically, STAKE LAND is bigger than its sombre narration and piano-led score imply. Within its post-Apocalyptic conventions (look out for nods to MAD MAX 2, especially) are references to religious factions, class divides, the sanctity of life, the need for human connection, and more. This is no brainless gore fest, that’s for sure.

Speaking of gore, however, it would be remiss of me to review STAKE LAND without making mention of Pete Gerner’s sterling FX work. Wow. This is old-school gore of the zombie variety, applied to vampires in a manner that I can recall being done with such verve in quite some time. This is less THE LOST BOYS, and much more THE EVIL DEAD. Great stuff.

As for Jeff Grace’s aforementioned score, while his quieter piano moments come across as pretty hackneyed, there can be no denying the impact of his more rousing numbers – echoing the hysterical highlights of soundtracks from both THE EVIL DEAD and SUSPIRIA in equal measure.

STAKE LAND is a strong vampire film despite its surface premise seeming thin. There are more issues than plot advancements here. If you like subtext, you’ll have a field day. If not, just kick back and enjoy the endless barrage of high octane vampire assaults and keenly shot visuals. There really is something for everyone.

Metrodome’s DVD presents the film uncut in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, in a superb 16x9 enhanced transfer. Colours are strong but natural, blacks are sturdy and images retain a sharp, smooth texture throughout.

English audio comes in options of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are highly proficient, although the option of English subtitles would’ve been nice, as both Martin and Mister tend to mumble on occasion.

An animated main menu page leads into a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras on this disc are limited to two audio commentary tracks. Mickle heads them both, understandably. The best of these is the first one, featuring the director along with Paolo, Damici, co-producer – he also cameos as a bartender - Larry Fessenden (general rule of thumb: anything with his name attached to it is worth a watch), and fellow co-producer Brent Kunkle. It’s a fluent, engaging and often informative chat that also contains its fair share of mirth and technical trivia. The disc is programmed to open with trailers for AGES OF HEROES, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and CHERRY TREE LANE.

There are other bonus features in Metrodome’s set, but these are contained to a second disc which wasn’t made available for review purposes.

A great film, then, on what promises to be a great DVD.

Also available on blu-ray.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Metrodome Group
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review